Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blood Supply Chains and Great Journalists

My suitcase is packed and I am pumped for two conferences in Italy and in Greece at which I will be presenting research with collaborators on supply chain networks in time-sensitive markets.

But before I leave for the airport, I wanted to comment on what an amazing week this has been.

Early last week, I had the privilege of being contacted by a journalist,  Paul Sisson, of UT-San Diego.  Sisson focuses on healthcare topics. He was writing an article for his newspaper for the Sunday Business Section on a supply chain we should all very much care about - the blood supply chain. He was wondering, since my group at the Supernetwork Center at the Isenberg School had done quite a lot of research and writing on this topic (and even teaching about it), whether I would be willing to answer some questions.
Although I am now spending a few weeks in Sweden as a Visiting Professor, since effective healthcare supply chains, including the truly unique blood one, are passions of mine (and it was clear that Sisson feels the same way), I had to say, "yes!"

His questions were so interesting, insightful, and thoughtful, I enjoyed the process of addressing them very much.

Paul Sisson's article, "A Vital Supply Chain,"  is online on the newspaper website. 
A pdf version is available here.

Communicating research to a journalist who is very interested in the subject is very gratifying and it also helps one to further flesh out the important aspects of the research findings and their relevance. I very much respect the important work that journalists do in keeping us informed and educated! A hearty thank you! 

Journalists, working with academics, can even help to move research and education forward through appropriate and probing queries!

Although, of course, only some highlights of an interview, even even an extensive one, may actually be published in a newspaper article, the exchange stays with one. This kind of recognition is also further support of the research that we do with collaborators and with our students.

I highlight some fascinating factoids below about blood supply chains.

Think about this - The supply of human blood depends completely on volunteerism since human blood, unlike numerous products, cannot be manufactured. The producers of this critical needs product are humans themselves and they have to be altruistic in their donations, effectively giving a part of themselves to others. The great majority of blood collection facilities in the US are  managed by the Red Cross (about 45%)  or by the network of US Blood Centers (about 50%) and these are nonprofit organizations. Other suppliers of blood are certain hospitals, usually, larger ones.  The collection facilities themselves can be either mobile or fixed. According to the American Red Cross, over 39,000 donations are needed everyday and there have been times when the supply was just 2 days short of running out.

Given that the production and, hence,  supply of blood is based, primarily, to-date,  on volunteers, there is uncertainty on the supply side as well as risk - will donors show up?  Both great and bad weather days may result in insufficient donations. Donors may go to the beach in the case of the former and may be stuck due to a snowstorm in the case of the latter.  There is also uncertainty  on the demand side since although some medical procedures are pre-scheduled and for such procedures demand for blood products can  be more easily forecast, there are also unforeseeable emergencies that do take place (disasters, accidents, etc.).  Hence, balancing supply and demand is a matter of life and death in this supply chain. Of 1,700 hospitals taking part in a survey in 2007, a total of 492 reported cancellations of elective surgeries on one or more days due to blood shortages. Also, there are no economies of scale in "production" in this supply chain since many of the volunteers (can) donate only 1 pint at a time and do so, typically, in the case of repeat donors, only twice a year.

This blood  supply chain is, in effect, a reverse supply chain. Most products - think of cars and high tech products - are assembled by putting distinct parts/components together to make the final product. Whole blood, when extracted, on the other hand, is disassembled into such components as Red Blood Cells (RBCs) and plasma with platelets extracted through a process known as asphoresis. Interestingly, thus, blood supply chains have commonality with reverse supply chains as in the electronic recycling of such products as computers and cell phones (where extraction of certain elements can be a treasure trove). (We have done research on these supply chains as well.)

Blood is highly perishable with the shelf life of RBCs ranging from 35 days - 42 days, that of platelets 5 days, whereas plasma can be frozen for up to 1 year. Therefor, there are immense time pressures on this product;  at the same time, blood must undergo numerous steps of testing, processing, storage, and distribution to the points of demand such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

For those of you who are interested in reading more about our research on blood supply chains, which was inspired by one of my former doctoral student's (Amir H. Masoumi's) great interest in the subject, I have highlighted papers with links below.

Supply Chain Network Operations Management of a Blood Banking System with Cost and Risk Minimization, Anna Nagurney, Amir H. Masoumi, and Min Yu, Computational Management Science 9(2): (2012) pp 205-231.

Supply Chain Network Design of a Sustainable Blood Banking System, Anna Nagurney and Amir H. Masoumi, in Sustainable Supply Chains: Models, Methods and Public Policy Implications, T. Boone, V. Jayaraman, and R. Ganeshan, Editors, Springer, London, England (2012) pp 49-72.

Also, our latest book, Networks Against Time: Supply Chains for Perishable Products, co-authored with Professor Min Yu of the University of Portland, Professor Amir H. Masoumi of Manhattan College, and Professor Ladimer S. Nagurney of the University of Hartford, provides a synthesis of some of the other fascinating supply chains, along with blood supply chains,  that we have worked on that deal with perishable and time-sensitive products.
Both Dr. Min Yu and Dr. Amir H. Masoumi received their PhDs from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst and their concentrations were in Management Science.